This is it! The final chapter of Entropy. I'm a little sad that it's done, but mostly I'm excited. Who knows where I'll go from here? Anyway, enjoy, and thank you for sticking with the story! It's been fun.
I may have made up some trivial information not actually found in the HP books to suit my needs for this chapter.
Standard disclaimer applies.
Hermione didn't recognize that she was sick right away. She had been laying on the bathmat for over a day and a half, not moving unless she needed to use the toilet. She could feel the stomach acid eating away slowly at her intestinal linings, could hear the roaring of her stomach and the aching of her limbs and skin, and yet she did nothing to ease her aches and pains. And Malfoy hadn't returned since his dramatic departure.
Of course he wouldn't. What would he care, after all?
But Hermione felt it on the second morning, a new pain that radiated from her body. It was the itching chill in her chest whenever she breathed too deeply, the soft hissing of air from her throat as she exhaled. It was the sharp twinges in her eardrums, the steady pounding in her head. It was the shivers that accompanied her sweating; yes, it was sickness that Hermione finally recognized on the second morning.
She couldn't bother herself to deal with it. She didn't want to own her body anymore. It hurt too much. She retreated further into her mind, trying valiantly to ignore the calls that begged for relief.
It was only hours later when her coughs caused her back to slam so violently into the tile that she cried out with a sob and emerged from her protective shell. She couldn't ignore it anymore. Slowly, painfully, she dragged herself up and out of the bathroom. She opened the door with a shaky hand. The bedroom before her spun in a dizzying array of greens and browns, and she fell down onto the carpet. She steadied herself on her knees, her hand braced against the doorframe. She waited for the carpet to come into focus beneath her. She was shaking, sweat pouring from her forehead in a nauseating mixture of distant fear and sickness. Somewhere, in that sea of brown and green, there had been a very distinctive blonde head.
He was here. She knew he was here. She recognized the fear that constricted her already tight throat, but she refused to acknowledge the emotion.
She wasn't sure what to do. Instinct was to run and hide. Reality told her she didn't have the energy or the will to do so. So she would wait. She would wait for him to move first. She lowered her hand from the doorframe, falling forward on her stump and flexed palm. Waiting.
She could hear her breath, ragged and short. She felt the scabs on her back stretch and pull and her muscles scream from abuse. She felt her legs cramping from not moving for days. She felt her heart pounding in her chest and her pulse thudding in her ears.
There was silence as she waited, the tension thick in the air. She knew that he could sense her uncertainty, that he was probably reveling in it. She just wanted her cot. She just wanted to lie down. She just wanted…
A rattling cough erupted from her chest in an excruciating breath. She lost her balance and fell forward, her head hitting the rug, turning her neck up at an awkward angle. Tears leaked from her eyes as she felt scabs splitting open at the edges; waiting, praying desperately for it to stop. She shut her eyes tightly.
When she could breathe again it was in shaky, shallow gulps. She opened her eyes, seeing the triangles of wet lashes protruding from her eyelids. Just as she registered that there were black boots in front of her, a familiar magical force was dragging her upwards. She let her head sag in agonized defeat. She hovered motionless for a moment before she felt the tug at her chin. She didn't resist, and was then looking directly into the eyes of her captor. Her torturer. Her world.
Malfoy's gaze was intense and unyielding, looking over her like she was a specimen under a magnifying glass. She stared back at him, her eyes dead and unfeeling but her body shivering uncontrollably.
He continued to look her over, appraising her body thoughtfully. There was a look on his face she couldn't describe. She hadn't seen that look…not in a long, long time. What was it? She couldn't remember. Hermione finally averted his gaze, not caring. Not even trying to care. She held completely limp as he levitated her across the room.
She didn't think anything of it as he laid her down on her cot; it didn't register with her that he pulled the thin sheets over her. The scant warmth that encased her body chased away some of her shudders, and she closed her eyes, ignoring the fact that he stood over her, that he never broke his gaze from her still form.
Hermione spent the next few days tossing uncomfortably on her cot; for reasons she couldn't understand and wouldn't fathom, Malfoy had taken pity on her and allowed Smidgey to feed her soup and porridge. But still she felt herself growing worse, her coughs growing more violent and prolonged. She soaked through her bed sheets with sweat. Her fever climbed higher.
Hermione felt these things happen to her, felt the constant pain coursing through her body, but she didn't really feel it. She wasn't connected to it. She was aware that she was hurting physically, but mentally she felt nothing. She simply accepted the pain.
On the third day she awoke to a different set of black robes in front of her. They were older, more worn, and smelled of spiced herbs. Through her daze it registered that Malfoy wasn't here. Or at least not in front of her. Not like he had been these past few days. This person had their back to her, but though she couldn't see his face, she knew it was Snape. She struggled to keep her eyes open, a losing battle.
Snape turned back towards her, his eyes alighting on her face.
"Miss Granger," he murmured. He didn't say anything else. Hermione didn't answer him, simply watching him. She saw him lift up her covers, and she shivered at the impact of cool air against her flesh. She didn't feel embarrassed, didn't even flinch, when he removed her dress and put his hands on her, assessing her body from head to toe. He rolled her onto her side and she felt his cool fingers probe gingerly at her scabs, most of which were rapidly fading to ugly scars, but a few of which still bled sluggishly. A sweaty lock of hair fell into her eye and she blinked it away. She allowed him to lay her back down again and redress her. He pulled the covers up to her chin, brushing the stray hair away from her face. Hermione felt a jolt of emotion when he touched her cheek, but she ignored it determinedly, staring past him into the distance.
Snape disappeared from her sight then, behind her shade. She caught bits and pieces of conversation, recognizing Malfoy's voice as well and tensing involuntarily.
"Physically…." The words faded in and out. "And mentally, Lucius…" She heard Malfoy growl in response as they continued to talk in heated, hushed tones. The low hum of male voices lulled her to sleep.
She woke up later not recognizing her surroundings. She was not on her cot. She was not in Malfoy's room. She struggled to roll to her side. The bed she was on was comfortable, though simple. A squashy comforter was pulled up to her shoulders.
The room was mostly empty otherwise, a nightstand beside her. A mortar and pestle sat on the nightstand next to several vials, two flasks and a white porcelain bowl. Her eyes shifted around the rest of the room. It was small, plain wooden floorboards and unpainted walls. A doorway was on the wall opposite her. Her bed was pushed against the far wall, a window just above it.
Hermione rolled back over, staring blankly at the ceiling. She wondered vaguely where she was, but a particularly painful coughing fit interrupted her train of thought, reducing her to tears. She pulled the fluffy covers up over her head and tried not to breathe, tried not to exist. But eventually she had to take a breath, and as she inhaled deeply, she smelled it. Spiced herbs. Was she at Snape's house? She exhaled and breathed in the familiar scent again. She shivered, though her body felt as though it were on fire.
She drew back the comforter after about five minutes. She jumped when she saw Snape himself in front of her bed. She had not heard him enter. Seeing her awake, Snape greeted her.
"Miss Granger," he said, voice neutral, "You are in my home," he said by way of explanation. When that garnered no reaction from her, he continued, "I did not have the supplies necessary to treat you at Malfoy Manor, so I convinced Lucius to let me bring you here." His explanation finished, he closed his mouth and looked down at her, an eyebrow raised as if he expected something from her. Hermione just stared blankly at him. Snape's eyes narrowed.
"Has Lucius finally shut up the Know-It-All Gryffindor Princess?"
His sneer died on his lips as he watched her expression.
Her mask faltered slightly at his words. Had Snape not been one for intricate detail, had he not had years of practice reading people's faces, he might have missed it. The tiny tics and pulls at the corners of her eyes, the slight tightening of her lips. Her emotions screamed at him, even if she couldn't, wouldn't , feel them herself.
Sadness. Grief. Pain. Desolation. And above all, fear. His expression softened, if only slightly.
"I will not hurt you, Miss Granger," he told her slowly, looking directly into her eyes. She flinched and looked away. He continued, "You are only here for my help." He stressed the word, watching her closely, "Lucius is not here."
Hermione refused to trust him. How could she? Trust had been eradicated from her life for the past two months. She turned her head into the pillow, keeping one eye trained on the outline of his robes. Just in case.
At that moment, she coughed again, and struggled for a few minutes to breathe, nearly suffocating on the pillow. When she had control of herself again, she felt something cool and made of glass pressing against her lips. She inhaled the scent of lavender and mint, and recognized it as a particularly potent mixture of Calming Draught and Cough Potion. Upon recognition, she relaxed her lips, the liquid streaming down her throat in cooling waves. A Fever and Pain Reducer followed, burning in her throat and her belly. She relaxed against the pillow as Snape finished with her, and closed her eyes. As she drifted off to sleep she realized for the first time that nightmares hadn't been plaguing her almost a week, not since Malfoy had...
But then again, how could you have nightmares if you couldn't feel anything anymore?
The next few days were a blur to Hermione. Snape came every evening with more medicine for her. But despite the Fever Reducers, the Calming Draughts and Cough Potions, her body simply would not heal itself. She had mentally given up, and her body could no longer handle the stress on its own. Slowly, she was breaking down, dying. She knew she was. She could only wait it out.
At least Malfoy wasn't here.
At least she wasn't starving and bleeding and freezing and sick and dying all at the same time anymore.
On her sixth day at Snape Manor, her professor entered the room earlier than he normally did, quietly shutting the door behind him, facing her but not moving. He seemed somber, more so than usual, and he lacked his normal sneer of displeasure. Hermione watched him fixedly, the only indication that revealed her curiosity.
Finally, with a sigh, Snape approached her, sitting on the edge of her bed, just looking at her for awhile, as if waiting for her to say something. She did not. He was holding a flask tightly in one calloused hand. He ran the other through his thinning black hair, turning to face the window.
"Miss Granger," he started, and then sighed again, looking directly at her now. "I am not a healer," he stated, frowning, "I am most likely the best potions brewer in the Wizarding World, but a healer I am not. There is only so much I can do."
His gaze turned intense, and Hermione's face grew puzzled in response. He continued, "This…illness...of yours…you may or may not ever recover from it. And I believe that mentally...you will never recover from what you have been through."
Snape ran a hand through his hair again, a troubled look on his face. "I also believe that on some level you do not even want your body to heal…that you, too, are also aware that you will not recover. Am I correct?"
Hermione did not respond, but her agreement showed on her face. She felt her heart rate increase slightly. What was he saying? Snape exhaled through his nose, and Hermione watched him intently.
"Lucius has demanded your return by tomorrow morning."
Hermione lost her breath for a moment, causing her to cough loudly. Snape waited until she regained stability before he continued, "However…" he trailed off, lost in thought for a long, drawn out moment, "I believe you have suffered enough, Hermione," he said softly, "I am offering you a second option." His black eyes bored into hers, a conflicted look in them.
He released the tight grip on the flask so she could see its contents.
"I believe you are familiar with this particular potion, Hermione," Snape said quietly. Hermione's eyes widened. Of course she knew that potion. How could she forget it? The bright orange liquid sloshed in its container; it had been one of the poisons on the table when she and Harry had almost reached the Sorcerer's Stone. One that she had identified as a poison. She looked at him disbelievingly. He continued his explanation, unhurried,
"This is a choice, Hermione," he reiterated, "I am not forcing you to drink this. I am merely giving you the option. It will kill you painlessly, and there will be no trace left of it if you were to be examined post-mortem. It would make it appear as if you had died of natural causes." He took a breath. "Again, an option." His tone was completely serious, not a trace of emotion evident.
An option? Death or...or Malfoy. Hermione hesitated, realizing she would have to give an answer. Wasn't she stronger than this? Wasn't she too Gryffindor to take the Slytherin way out?
No, she realized. She wasn't a Gryffindor anymore. She was a broken little Mudblood girl with nothing left in her future but pain and suffering and loneliness. She didn't have to be brave.
Hermione reached out her hand toward Snape. He handed her the flask silently, something like regret passing over his features briefly before he composed himself. She held it in her lap, staring down at it.
Snape stood to leave, but Hermione's hand snaked out of its own accord and latched onto his robe. He turned around, surprised. She looked at him pleadingly, balancing the potion precariously on her lap with her stump.
"Stay," she whispered, almost inaudibly, "Please." She sounded almost desperate. Snape sank back down on the bed, hands folded in his lap. She released him.
Hermione fingered the rim of the flask for a long moment. Was there anything she wanted to say, anything she needed to hear before she…before she…
"Where's Ginny?" she asked. It came out in a slurred rush, her voice hoarse and cracking. Snape raised an eyebrow at her.
"Gone," he said dismissively. If he was surprised at her sudden ability to speak, he didn't show it. "I traded her to Antonin Dolohov," he elaborated vaguely, in that moment reminding Hermione swiftly and painfully that he was very much a Death Eater. He was not a savior. He was not her friend and he was not her rescuer.
Hermione gave a short nod of understanding. That was how her world worked, now.
She raised the flask up, staring into its contents. Her hand started to shake violently, and she felt her chest constricting, despite herself. Her breath shortened as she started to hyperventilate. Her vision was losing focus, the orange liquid a blurry mass in front of her. Tears pricked her eyes as she fought not to spill the potion in her trembling hand. She couldn't bring it closer.
Warm fingers wrapped around hers, steadying her grip. She looked up to Snape through tear-filled eyes.
"It's all right," he whispered. He brought a hand behind her head, the other still secure about her hand. He lifted the flask to her lips. She parted them compliantly, closing her eyes tightly as she felt the rush of cold liquid slide down her throat, the tears falling from her lashes.
The breath was gone from her lips before he laid her head to the pillow. Snape looked out of the window, far off into the distance for a moment, before rising and exiting the room. The door closed behind him with a quiet click.
Two months later
Lucius sat in the leather armchair, staring into the fire. The flames danced against the stone of the fireplace as the wood hissed and popped. A half-full glass of wine rested on the end table beside him. The rest of the room was dark and silent.
Lucius turned the smooth wood in his hands, absently running his fingers down to the knotted handle of the wand.
Ten and three-quarters inches, vine wood.
It was all that remained of her. Physically, it was the only thing left that gave a clue she ever existed in the Wizarding World.
And yet she was still there, still impossibly, intangibly there. She was always in his mind, haunting him, torturing him.
His grip tightened around the wood and his eyes narrowed.
When had things gotten so out of hand? When had he become so irrational? He was never supposed to lose control. Never. He was never supposed to almost drown her in those first few days. He was never supposed to let her out of that godforsaken bathroom. He was never supposed to mark her twice as his. He was never supposed to fuck her. He was never supposed to beat her within an inch of her life. He was never supposed to feel.
And yet he had felt. He'd felt such anger, such resentment, such jealousy towards her that he'd lost control. So many times. What she did to him-her defiance of him was more than he could take, making him doubt himself-and she paid for it until it killed her.
And at what cost to him?
He relinquished his grip on the wand and sipped his wine. She was supposed to have died the night of Potter's death. Why didn't he kill her?
The image of her broken, beaten body entered his mind, her dull eyes staring emptily up at him. Why wouldn't she leave? She meant nothing to him. Nothing. He returned the wine to its stand. His hands returned to her wand.
She was merely paying for the crimes against and the death of his son, he convinced himself. She had deserved everything he had put her through-it was just punishment and due vengeance. Wasn't it?
The wand in his hands snapped in half. His eyes flicked down to it. Dragon heartstring.
Would he ever regain control of himself? He looked at the shattered remains of wood. Damn her! Damn her and her insufferable cries, her pathetic pleas, her treacherous face. Damn her to all levels of Hell.
He threw the broken wand into the flames with a flourish. The fire roared with a purple hue as it ate away slowly at the wood.
He had only been avenging his son. She had been the most appropriate means to the end of his grief. He had been justified in his actions.
Yes, he repeated to himself determinedly, she deserved what he did to her. He had been justified. He stared into the fire until her wand was nothing but charred wood and ash, until the fire burned down to glowing embers.
Yes, he had been justified.
He sipped again from his goblet.
Well, I hope you had fun! I certainly did.
Fun Facts you may or may not be interested in knowing:
-This was supposed to be a romance fic
-There was supposed to be a happy ending
-I used to write solely comedy/humor fics
-No, I won't be retelling the story from either Snape's, Ginny's, or Malfoy's point of view
Thank you for reading!